Han had just told a joke, Leia remembers.
Luke had been trying to look grave and serene, his idea of how The Perfect Jedi would act. Since Luke’s two exemplars of the Order had apparently been slightly mad old hermits, if you listened to Artoo’s stories, Leia had always thought the stuffiness a bit overdone. But he had been very young, back then.
(They had all been so very young.)
Although Leia no longer remembers exactly what Han’s joke was, she’s sure it was rampantly inappropriate. Not only was this always likely, Han being Han, but she can see its trace in the agonized set of her mouth, held stiffly like she was afraid it would shatter. She can see the dimple trying to assert itself in Luke’s cheek, and the laughter in her own eyes.
Leia doesn’t have her own copy of the famous propaganda poster. Or perhaps she does, somewhere; rolled up in a storage closet, tucked away with tiny baby booties and her angsty teenage journals and one of Han’s old jackets. Her copy gathers dust with the rest of her memories, hidden away from no one more than herself.
It’s been decades now. She runs across the poster less often than she used to, back when it seemed to be tacked up in every gin joint in the galaxy. Nowadays when she sees a copy, it’s often faded and dogeared at the edges, just like her.
The holoartist must have been driven crazy that day, Leia thinks. Han cracking jokes and trying to get under Luke’s skin, needling him over and over again, just to see him snap and wheel around, his eyes sparking with annoyance and amusement and grudging affection. Luke trying so hard to be a Mysterious Jedi, and half the time simply looking constipated.
Leia in front, the famous Princess of the Rebellion, but also between them; caught between, one at each hand.
“Can you two behave?” she’d said, after about the hundredth take, hands on hips.
“He started it!” Luke had protested.
Han had always started it.
They’d been in the heady new-relationship stage, her and Han; she can see the slightest edge of a hicky peeking out from under his collar, only visible if you know it’s there. She’d been so full of joy in these weeks – it virtually shines from her poster-self, her face alight.
Not just because of Han, of course, though goodness knows those nights were incredible. No, she’d been giddy with relief that they’d survived, and dizzy with affection for her new-found brother, and muzzy with exhilaration that not only was the Emperor gone, but Vader too.
They hadn’t talked about that. Luke had mourned him, and Leia had not. She could have danced on his grave, if she’d known where it was. He had tortured her, and tortured Han in human experimentation that could have ended in his death, and cut off Luke’s hand; given the opportunity, he would have gladly tried to force her to become a Sith. (Though she would have died first.)
And most of all, he had let Tarkin kill her parents and her entire planet. Leia has never forgotten.
But in the particular moment captured by the holoartist, she doesn’t see the shadows she knows were there. All she sees is the joy and the love in her eyes, surrounding her like the Force. Han swaggers with a smirk on her right hand, and Luke is poker-faced but laughing-eyed on her left. They are so young and so vibrant, full of triumph and bravado and purpose.
(The fashion is pretty disastrous. Though Leia will always have a soft spot for that hairstyle; she never sees it nowadays, for the Alderaanian diaspora is achingly small, but she can remember her mother teaching it to her like it was yesterday.)
She remembers how she had kissed Han after the holoartist said they’d got what they needed, going up on her toes and pulling his head down, easy and warm and sure. He always kissed her so wonderfully, so perfectly; she can feel his lips against hers if she shuts her eyes.
Luke had told them to get a room.
She reaches a hand out to trace the curve of Han’s smirk, feeling the crinkles in the poster underneath her fingertips.
“I kept it,” the museum curator says behind her.
Leia suppresses the urge to jerk her fingers back, like Ben had used to do when she caught him with his hand in the sweets jar. She’s Leia Organa. Nobody scolds her.
She turns instead. “You did?”
“It was mine when I was a girl,” the curator says, smiling. She’s a large woman, calm and confident, with laugh-lines around her eyes. She reminds Leia of the mother of one of her childhood friends, and Leia finds herself shoving away the thought that Roha might look very much like her, if she hadn’t been on Alderaan when Tarkin blew it from the universe.
Most of the museum exhibits surrounding them are from the battle that was fought on this planet shortly after the Battle of Hoth. Leia wonders if there’s a display case dedicated to tokens from Alderaan; there often is, in museums like this, and they never get any easier to see.
The curator is still talking. “I have a boy named Luke. Well, he’s not really a boy now, is he? The years go so fast.”
“They do,” Leia says, keeping her voice steady. She’s had a lot of practice over the years.
“You all have meant a lot to us, General,” the curator says, bobbing her head in the gesture of respect native to this particular planet. How many cultural norms has Leia absorbed over the years, trying to keep a galaxy together? Innumerable.
“Thank you,” she responds, automatically making the hand gesture of acceptance.
Her moment of remembrance has been broken. She has no time to linger in museums, sinking back into the past and filling herself with the echoes of laughter. The fight is not over. Yes, the First Order has taken a setback, and yes, Chewbacca and Rey have gone to find her long-missing brother and bring him back to aid their cause, but if there’s anything Leia has learned over her lifetime, it’s that the fight is never over.
Still, the encounter has given her an idea.
That night, Leia calls for Pava, one of Poe Dameron’s young hotshot flyers who, if word in the hangar doesn’t lie, is a talented artist in her spare time. Finn is still in the hospital, and Rey isn’t back with Luke yet, but when the time is right she thinks it’s time to update the famous Golden Trio poster for a new generation. Let children across the galaxy tack up Rey, Finn, and Poe on their bedroom walls; let them dream of a universe without the darkness of the First Order, just as she had dreamed of a universe without the darkness of an empire.
People need hope, always.
After Pava leaves, Leia stands by her window. It’s a luxury she cherishes, after spending so much of her lifetime in windowless offices, bunkers, and underground. Now she stares out at the night sky, clear and dark and moonlit.
(The new Golden Trio poster will come out beautifully. Pava will bring her a copy, shy and sweet; after some thought, Leia will hang it in her study, and work on building up the fortitude to sort through her closet of memories to find its ancestor. They will eventually hang side by side, the dogeared and the crisply new, the past and the future.)
Leia watches the stars overhead, and remembers.
The laughter caught in Han’s voice as he teased, because he always did find his own jokes amusing. The bubbly joy in her own chest, effervescent and irrepressible. The fond exasperation in Luke’s body language and in the Force bond that sung in her brain, and the clean smell of his robes when she leaned her forehead against his shoulder. The music someone was playing outside, fast and syncopated, and the relief that resonated in every nerve in her body, keeping time with the beat.
They had been so young, and so alive, and so happy.
Yes, after the halcyon days had come the others. Few days in her life, before or after, had ever reached the peak of joy she had felt in those first precious weeks after the Battle of Endor. Leia’s life has had more than its fair share of shadows and darkness, tragedy and heartbreak.
But the darkness of the night does not negate the sunshine of the day.
Leia remembers, and she smiles.